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Longacre v. Smarr

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

December 13, 2019

CLAYTON ERNEST LONGACRE, Plaintiff,
v.
TROOPER RONALD SMARR, WILBUR & ASSOCIATES, JOHN DOE OF WILBUR & ASSOCIATES, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RONALD B. LEIGHTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on competing Motions for Summary Judgment [Dkts. 63 & 66]. The facts of the case are described in prior Orders. [Dkt. #s 28, 38, 53, 57 and 62]

         The last remaining defendant, State Trooper Smarr, argues that he had probable cause to arrest Longacre for driving with a suspended license, and that he is entitled to qualified immunity even if he did violate Longacre's constitutional rights. He argues that he did not have any personal participation in the conduct Longacre alleges about the other, since-dismissed defendants, including Mason County and Wilber and Associates.

         Longacre's Summary Judgment Motion [Dkt. # 66] argues that the dismissal of his misdemeanor arrest established as a matter of law that Smarr did not have probable cause for his arrest, and that Smarr violated his rights by failing to establish individualized probable cause before making the arrest. For the reasons below, Longacre's Motion is DENIED. Smarr's Motion is GRANTED, and Longacre's claims against Smarr are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. FACTS

         On July 4, 2015, Trooper Smarr approached a motorist in the Lake Cushman area who was stuck in a ditch. A Mason County Sheriff deputy was already on site. Two men, including Longacre, were attaching a “tow strap” to the disabled vehicle and to their pick-up. Smarr suspected the woman who drove the car into the ditch was intoxicated. Longacre informed Trooper Smarr that they would drive the woman's car and the pick-up away from the scene and drive to a nearby property owned by Longacre. Trooper Smarr obtained Longacre's license and ran a check to verify his ability to drive lawfully. Smarr's check of Washington Department of Licensing records revealed that Longacre's drivers' license was suspended. After Smarr informed Longacre his status as suspended driver, Longacre got into the pick-up and pulled the disabled car out of the ditch and onto the highway. Smarr determined he had probable cause to arrest Longacre for driving on a suspended license in violation of RCW 46.20.342(1).

         Longacre was incarcerated in the jail and released later that same morning. Longacre claims that the charges were dismissed without a trial, although no proof of the dismissal in paper form is provided to this Court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether an issue of fact exists, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986); Bagdadi v. Nazar, 84 F.3d 1194, 1197 (9th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact exists where there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no evidence which supports an element essential to the nonmovant's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the movant has met this burden, the nonmoving party then must show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact, “the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24. There is no requirement that the moving party negate elements of the non-movant's case. Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871 (1990). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-movant must then produce concrete evidence, without merely relying on allegations in the pleadings, that there remain genuine factual issues. Anderson, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Qualified Immunity Bars Longacre's Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Qualified immunity shields government officials from liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless their conduct violates clearly established constitutional rights. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). Entitlement to qualified immunity is a question of law. Elder v. Holloway, 510 U.S. 510, 516, 114 S.Ct. 1019, 127 L.Ed.2d 344 (1994).

         In determining whether Trooper Smarr is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court engages in a two-part analysis, looking to whether the alleged facts implicate the violation of a constitutional right, and whether the right was “clearly established” at the time of the alleged violation. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. The Court may consider those factors in any order it chooses. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 818, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).

         1. Trooper Smarr Did Not Violate Longacre's ...


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